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Blogger detained since October 2008, church orders family to keep silent

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) expressed its strong condemnation and dismay at the continued detention since 3 October 2008 of the Christian blogger, Hani Nazeer, by state security. His arrest was carried out in coordination with the Church in Naga Hammadi, his hometown in Qena Governorate. Nazeer is the author of the "Karz elhob" blog ( http://haninazeeraziz.blogspot.com ).

The controversy began on 1 October 2008, when some young Muslims were browsing Nazeer's blog and found a link to another site containing a digital version of a novel called "Azazil's Goat in Mecca", which included an attack on Islam. This work was written by an anonymous author under the name of "Father Utah". The novel was written in response to Yusuf Zidane's famous novel "Azazil", which was considered by some conservatives as offensive to Christianity.

Some young people in Nazeer's village became very angry and thought he was the author of the story. Security forces took this opportunity to arrest Nazeer in order to get rid of the problems raised by his blog, because of his strong opposition to both Muslim and Christian hardliners.

For example, he rejected changing the Egyptian anthem from "Egypt Peace" to "Egypt Islam". He also opposed the church hosting some radical Christians for conferences being held inside the church, stressing that the Church is a place to pray rather than to hold political conferences.

When a police force from state security came to Nazeer's house to arrest him on 1 October, he was not home. They took his two brothers as hostages until he turned himself in. Two days later, another security force went to his house and arrested Nazeer's sisters as a further measure. Nazeer went in person to state security on 3 October, and was detained in Burj Al-Arab prison, where he remains.

The crime against Nazeer was further aggravated by Anba Cyrilus, Bishop of Naga Hammadi, when he asked the family to keep silent in order not to upset the state security. After Nazeer's detention, the alleged "Father Utah" continued to write on Christian sites. This information points to the almost certain fact that Nazeer was not arrested because of the book or the anger of some young Muslims, but rather as a result of some kind of deal between the church in Naga Hammadi and security forces. By making this arrest, they managed to "kill three birds with one stone":

- They managed to calm young protesters about the novel "Azazil's Goat in Mecca".
- They covered up the failure of security forces in discovering the identity of the blogger "Father Utah".
- They rid themselves of a young blogger who has been criticizing Christian and Islamic hardliners.

The blogger remains in detention at Burj Al-Arab prison, suffering harsh conditions as he is being held with common criminals.

"The arrest of an innocent young man and the deletion of his blog is common behavior from state security in Egypt, but what is strange in this case is the divvying up of roles among security forces and the church," said Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI. "Security forces have arrested this secular blogger, and all the while the church is asking his family to keep silent, which further complicates this crime which must be exposed," Eid added.

ANHRI stated that: "It seems that the Egyptian government has specifically used Burj Al-Arab prison to detain secular bloggers. The state has detained both the secular blogger Musaad Abu Fajr, who has been held there for sixteen months so far, along with Karim Amer, who has been jailed for thirty months, and now Hani Nazeer has spent six months in the same prison."

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